Ralph Scott of Louisville and Sylvia Smith of London — the London — came to their first Derby wondering if they would even bet. But they looked at the odds and decided to put some bills on Orb and Revolutionary.
“I’m here for two more years,” Scott said of Louisville, where he is stationed in the military.
Safe bet, they’ll be back to the Derby. 6:35 p.m.
As the race approaches, people settle into where they are going to be. People who had holed up to avoid the rain all day took their uncovered seats. People unable to actually see the track piled into places where they could see TV screens, including a crowd ascending a picnic table in the paddock.
By the way, the reverent singing of My Old Kentucky Home does not take place in the paddock. They cheer it when it is done, but the singalong is absent. It is a reactive crowd.
One guy, with a Dollar General Bag on his head and swim goggles on his eyes looked at me and said, “My God. This is going to change my life.”
“You don’t want to catch a cold on Derby Day!” she yells, holding her wares aloft. “Get you ponchos!”
If it had not turned out to be a chilly rainy day, McShane and Jessica Ellrick would have been selling T-shirts Event Toyz outside the Downs. But there is always a rain plan to come in, as official vendors, and sell $5 ponchos if it rains.
“A lot of people came prepared to look awesome, they didn’t come prepared for this,” Ellrick said.
Among those types of folks were Armida Hoffman of Tucson, Ariz., and Jean-Paul Rousselle of Springfield, Mo., who looked like they put more than the week they claimed they devoted to putting together their crisp outfits that were under clear Walgreen’s ponchos.
“You do what you can to make it work,” said Rousselle. One of Hoffman’s strategies was a poncho over her flowing hat.
Seated in the grandstands, they said they tried to spend much of the day under cover. But they were making their way back to their seats for the Derby.
“We’ll be out there, even if it’s pouring,” Hoffman said.
– Here’s the fun thing about Churchill Downs in rain: people swarm to the covered areas. There was a point coming back to the press center from the red carpet that I realized no one was moving. It was just interconnected clusters of people standing together that we had to burrow through. It almost makes getting drenched seem like a better option. 3:57 p.m.
– Next to horse racing (and drinking) star-gazing is another one of the hallowed traditions of the Kentucky Derby. Today, it also gave fans about three hours they could stand under an awning, shout for their favorite celebrities, and keep moderately dry.
“If you’re not going to watch horses, you might as well watch celebrities,” said Jordan Moody of Greensboro, N.C. She had just made friends with Pam Allen of Boston on the front row of star gazers, just beyond the red carpet. Among their favorites were Kid Rock, Lance Bass and Michael J. Fox. Hint, stars: fans like it when you stop and smile at them. Ben Yapp of New Hampshire was stoked to see Scotty Pippin.
Consensus is the Derby is a big draw for reality stars, athletes and former boy band members, not necessarily in that order. Lance Bass said his former N Sync band ate Joey Fatone got him interested in coming to the race. “He’s the pro,” said Bass, who added he’ll lean on Fatone to pick a winner.
“And I’m really competitive,” Abby Zern said.
Caitlin Robinson said, “we’re just going around doing anything that’s under a shelter.” Sporting shorts and flannel shirts, the Chicago troupe was a bit more dressed for the weather than other Infield dwellers.
“We know how to dress for the weather in Chicago,” Shannon Phillips said.
Still Kristin Koller, a nurse from Eden Prairie, Minn., worried, “these are perfect conditions for colds.”
Snuggling her Bud Light Lime in her new Dodge Ram coozie, Zern said, “I’m pretty sure that’s not why I’ll feel horrible tomorrow.” 11:37 a.m.
– A snazzily dressed trio from St. Louis invoked a variation of Dori’s catch phrase from Finding Nemo to describe how they were dealing with the wet weather in the Infield Saturday morning: “Just keep drinking,” Bridget Walsh said, cradling her first julep of the day. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Jamie Dupate said of the modest imbibing thus far. Their only concessions to the rain were shoes – loafers for Bridget and Walmart boots for Jamie. But the pink hats stayed. “It’s Derby. You don’t ditch the hat,” Jamie said.
And you don’t change your bachelor party plans. Despite the weather, Colin Toolan of Philadelphia still had his friends gathered in the infield to celebrate his July marriage. Some of the gentlemen were completing a personal Triple Crown, though Al Kane of Denver said, “The infield here isn’t as rowdy as it was at Preakness, at this hour.”
So there you have it, Kentucky Derby Infield, you have some catching up to do. 11:05 a.m. (Thanks to the Vineyard Vines tent for Infield shelter to write this.)
– This is my 15th Derby, but I am still fully capable of turning a corner and wondering, “where the heck am I?” Also wondering if I should interview the guy with a couple beers, already staggering into door posts at 10:15 a.m. — and I haven’t even made it to the infield yet.
– I’ll be roaming The Downs working to give you a sense of the day – with a break to schmooze celebrities around noon. The red carpet is covered, so I may be really looking forward to that. If there’s anything you think I should check out, tweet me @copiousnotes. 9:33 a.m.
– Alright, I did not beat the rain out to Churchill Downs, so the slog starts now. I am on the luxurious media shuttle into The Downs, also known as what appears to be a 1970s era Jefferson County S school bus. Ah, the glamorous life of Derby media. 9:28 a.m.